Daily Archives: May 26, 2011

How to Follow Your Heart: Part 2

Start with a cup of coffee.  Fast from coffee altogether.

But pay attention, and let words mean something.  To pay requires cost.

Be quiet.  Find the quiet in the noise.   If no quiet can be found, then sleep, and dream of it.

Breathe.   Oxygen and its life are rarely overrated.   Holding breath does nothing but turn you blue.

Listen.   At the very least, speak more softly.   Not always, but sometimes.   Spirits tend to hover when ears are attuned.

Read.  More.   Take things in.  Discern.  Keep.  Throw away.  And leave the trash alone; digging in it stinks.

Walk.   Go for walks.   Houses, sidewalks, and skies hide masterpieces in plain sight.

Look.  Don’t comment, just look.  See not what you want to see, but what’s there.

Bite your tongue when destruction’s on its tip.

Don’t forget what music moves you.  And once you’ve remembered, don’t fail to turn it on.

Write songs.  Even if you can’t sing, and know nothing of music.

Don’t forget that poems need not rhyme.  But they do need to stand.   Or at least walk a bit.

Dance.  Deny yourself that, even at parent’s insistence (they may be dead, after all), and you forfeit muscle, tone, and grace.  Not to mention joy.

Syllogize.  Make up words for that matter.   If “A” cannot be “non-A”, don’t force it.

Think.   When cognitive dissonance is unbearable, bear it, and think.

When walking in rain, release the muscles and slow down.  Tension is no umbrella.

Give.   Money burns, and is mostly too expensive.   Hoarding is a synonym for fear.

Pray.   Forget it working…talk with God.  Be frank, and let that be enough.

Obey.   The conscience is there.  Ignore it at your heart’s peril.   Authority must be given somewhere.

Delight.   Each one’s good is a gift.   Delight in it as it sustains you and those you love.

Weep.    Don’t be afraid to crack wide open.   What bleeds through is that heart you’re looking for.

Choose.  Life and death result, neither of which are abstractions.

Act.   Passivity is decay, though patience is needed.   Still…move.

Trust.   Who are we to think we arrive knowing anything?   God help us.   He will.

Love.   The greatest of these is love.   True.   What does love mean?  How do I do it?   Will I ever find it?

That answer lies at the end of long journeys along roads I think of as the heart to follow.

His is the heart to follow, to find my own.


Do again.


Filed under Daily Life, Faith and Art, Spirituality, Writing

How to Follow Your Heart (given that you find it first)

If I were to ask the inhabitants of Cyberspace to advise my newly minted 21-year-old son about his adult life, one of the chief answers lobbed back would be the ubiquitous charge to “follow your heart.”   So, given that how-tos are all the rage among us humans (how to love, how to make money, how to win facebook friends and influence people),  I thought I’d instruct him on how to go about it.

Ah, the “heart.”  Squishy word.   Better take a whack-a-mole shot at defining terms.  When a thing is at “the heart” of something, it’s central, core to the very thread of life.  The heart has to beat or life is over.   To say, “this is my heart” is to say that you’re about to comment on something fundamental in  your psyche.  A “feeling” you ascribe to your “heart” is hard to locate: it’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s smack in the middle of the felt reality of being human.   Love the Lord with all your “heart” goes the great command, and we’re supposed to get a new “heart” somewhere along the way.   Pick a definition: “seat of the emotions,” “that which you find when you relearn to play,” or maybe just “love.”

The call to follow the heart assumes that at some deep, foundational level, we are–finally–wise.  And our urging to this “followship” suggests that our wisdom resides in this “heart” we’re trying to locate and follow.  Problem is, it seems to be a challenge to get to; it lays hidden beneath layers of something else, layers of some other substance I’ll call not-heart and not-wisdom.   The Proverbs writer tells us to get wisdom (though it costs us all we have), which suggests that not-wisdom presents alternate possibilities on a fairly regular basis.   How does not-wisdom present itself?  Certainly not-wisdom wouldn’t be a problem if it showed up in ugly clothes, noxious odors, and crass, brutish behavior.  How else does not-wisdom present itself except in feelings and urges that remind you of something, namely, the heart?

You protest that when we urge each other to follow our hearts, surely we don’t mean to yield constantly to the impulse of the moment, to that which feels good, to that which pleases, do we?   But this is confusing:  the words “impulse,” “instinct,” “pleasure,” and especially the word “feeling” (most of all when the word “passion” is attached),  are packed in the basket of meanings assigned to following the heart, along with surges of fervor and urgent resolves of tension, sexual and otherwise.   So moving forward let’s acknowledge that the language of “following the heart” is murky and that to discern the true nature of a “heart” requires something other than not-wisdom, regardless of how it feels

Terribly unsatisfying line of thought.

Proverbs again: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s way ends in death.”   Talk about tossing a bummer-bomb right into the middle of the discussion.  So here’s a question: Does each person’s “right way” necessarily lead to life, if only they find their “heart” and follow it?   Are “hearts” and “right ways” different?   Well, they must be, because we know that to follow hearts leads to life, never to death, yes?  Unless, of course, the Proverbs writer was just wrong.

Okay, I’ll stop.

The sage advice about following the heart is true enough, I think, depending (heavily) on what you mean.   Even as we know that there is some sense in which following the heart is wise, we also know, equally, that the heart is fickle, tricky, elusive, and deceptive.  The word “heart” encompasses all of this;  if we go deeply enough into our consciences, and sit quietly, we know it’s true.  Wisdom, meaning, context, discernment are needed if “the heart” is to be heard and “followed” in life-giving ways.

Reading back through this, I feel like I’m trying to dance a ballet in oversized wooden clogs.

When people tell us to follow our hearts, I find the Apostle Paul’s reminder that good and evil travel together helpful.  The heart, as many speak of it, does have it’s wisdom, connected as it is to the source of life.  We are God-designed, in my view, and His image in us remains, and there is wisdom and life there.   And yes, it’s emotion and longing, the play instinct and good impulse, roaring passion and spirit, as well as the quiet listening to conscience, the little voice that whispers.  But if we’re honest, the heart is also a dissembler, a peddler of not-heart and not-wisdom, a wanter of what it wants, engaging in all manner of emotional and rational backflips to get just that–what it wants.

“My precious” comes to mind.

Thomas Merton was the first in my reading to suggest that my heart not only belongs to God–it’s hidden in Him.  That “the heart” which we think is our heart is an illusion, layered by sin, poor impulse, mistaken identity, and passionate energy for that identity by which some fling themselves far into death.   History seems clear in its evidential support of the proverbs writer: there are ways which seem right to us, best to us, most fitting, most of all that’s good, that in the end, lead to death.

So God holds my true heart?  The natural question is this: and where, and how do I find him?

Ask Cyberspace, and guess what you’ll hear.

“Follow your heart.”

Aacck.  Sigh.

Then I remember…I do not pray to my own heart…


Filed under Faith and Art, Spirituality, Writing